On Communication: Words Have Meaning

A standard by which we as a society communicate and function is through a common understanding of language. This is especially important when operating at an emergency scene, in the expenditures of public funds, in matters of employment, and legal issues. How senior managers prepare themselves and their organizations for all of these challenges prior to expected and unexpected events will likely factor into a desireable outcome. 

The words we choose to use in oral and written communication can be used by others when evaluating our inner thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. The effective use of language is important when trying to convey understanding and attempting to influence others. This is illustrated by many of the historic speeches and writings of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Activist Mahatma Gandhi, President John F. Kennedy, et al during times of crisis. When language is used properly to advance a noble cause good people will follow the leader, whether for an instant emergency incident, a crisis event or a chronic challenge that can only be managed to mitigate damage. 

The media by which modern society gathers, records, and documents our individual communication has changed rapidly in the 21st century and this has proven to be somewhat of a double-edged sword.  Because of the advancement of recording technology, the concept of private communication is no longer assured.  Images and edited recordings of audio and video can be manipulated so as to advance an idea without complete context. The use of advanced monitoring devices such as laser microphones, directional microphones, and highly advanced camera systems can capture information without the knowledge of the subject. This not only eliminates private conversations and actions but leaves out the context of prior understandings between communicators. 

In the business environment individuals should be aware of their communication styles and make every effort to be as effective and respectful as possible while still maintaining fidelity to the mission.  Common words specific to a discipline can sometimes shortened into an acronym, and are commonly seen in military, public safety, and healthcare applications.  Any acronym that may be construed to have an unintended negative meaning should be avoided, as the unintended consequences may prove to be a distraction from the organizational mission. 

Recognizing that people have individual personalities, and that these characteristics may surface in a comfortable work environment is critical for the supervisor or manager of any business. The workplace can be a controlled environment, to some degree, and the people who are authorized to manage that environment are responsible that to the extent possible the workplace is free from many forms of discrimination.  How those in charge care for the individual freedoms, limitations, and corrective actions employed will have significant influence on the morale and productive behavior of the workforce.  

Individual business disciplines involve varying levels of education, and the level of education can influence the size of the commonly used vocabulary. If the intent is to effectively communicate information in a workplace environment, it will be important to use words in the language that will be understood by the receiver. The objective is to achieve a desired result, and when multiple minds develop a common understanding the likely of success is enhanced. 

To add emphasis, foul language may be used in oral communication, most notably in military and public safety environments. This may be due to the inherent nature of timeliness of a needed action so as to prevent injury or death commonly found in those professions. While this may be uncomfortable for someone reviewing a body camera recording involving a subject and a police officer, it can be argued that it is used to achieve a successful outcome in critical use-of-force activities.  The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) argues for the use of “tactical language” when dealing with potentially violent subjects as a method to emphasize the seriousness of the officer during critical situations. 

Law enforcement officers operate in an environment where, at virtually anytime, a potential need to report critical information via radio for officer safety exists at virtually all times when on patrol. This speaks to the need to be exceptionally brief when possible.  The use of ten-code radio communication, intended to add brevity and covertness to the verbal communication, is not universal nationwide and can lead to a misunderstanding

Fire departments also routinely operate in in an uncontrolled workplace environment and under stressful conditions. Because most emergency calls for service for a fire service organization are “consequence mitigation/management” in nature a timely, efficient and competent response is mandatory. Much of this involves oral communication on the incident scene is between the individual(s) performing scene management, supervision, tasks and resource dispatchers.  Because this communication can be over portable radio only the most important information is spoken via radio during the emergency phase of an incident. 

In degrees of ascending importance, radio traffic can be described as routine, priority, and emergency, and it is necessary to recognize how to properly and efficiently communicate on the channel/frequency.  “Emergency traffic” via tactical radio channel is reserved for communication limited to information involving the immediate life safety of a firefighter; “priority traffic” is radio communication reserved for important information about the direction of critical tactical activity on the incident scene; and all other radio traffic is designated as “routine traffic.” 

When writing in the business environment on a work computer or device, it is important to limit the communication to that which is accurate, proper, fair and fact based.  Any electronic communications involving specific subject matter may be open to discovery in a claim and the employee/supervisor/manager will want to be seen as professional as possible.  Interpersonal communication between employees and the proper supervision of the healthiness of the workplace communication is a supervisory and management priority. How the supervisor handles her/his subordinates and understanding when to engage and at what level to engage will determine the success of those charged with this duty.  The volume and tenor of your voice, the environment chosen to have a discussion, and the perceived fairness and adherence to stated policy are important factors in these critical discussions. Modeling proper communication techniques is very important, as the standard is established by the supervisor. Giving license to subordinates by behaving contrary to the established organizational policy can lead to failure